Cityscapes can be just as interesting as landscapes – and when the city is a famous one, it takes on a special significance. It’s no wonder, then, that London’s skyline is a popular bucket list spot for photographers from around the world.
But how do you get the best cityscape shots when you arrive? Here is a guide to some of the best locations and angles you can take to bring London to life in your images – and to make your viewers feel as if they are there themselves.
From a park
There’s a real juxtaposition in London of the grey, concrete city streets against the occasional burst of life in a park or woods. Locations such as Regents Park, Highgate Wood, and so on all offer you the opportunity to see city life clashing directly with nature.
For your consideration, we offer One Tree Hill: a location between Forest Hill and Brockley which offers an unexpected yet gorgeous view to the north. Out over the tops of the trees you will spot the skyscrapers and tower blocks, framed very nicely by the black poplars and London plane trees.
Capture them green and blooming, or turning yellow and orange in the autumn light. You might also draw some interest from your closer surroundings: the largest underground reservoir in Europe will be under your feet, while a WWI-era anti-aircraft gun emplacement stands nearby.
From the home of modern art
The Tate Modern has a wonderful viewing platform which was first opened in 2016 during the launch of a new extension. Not only do you get to see modern art for free, but you can also go up and see the city all around you in 360-degree splendour. So much so, in fact, that nearby residents had attempted to take the builders to court over their loss of privacy.
The National Portrait Gallery also has great views across central London from its penthouse café, and you can also find a lovely viewing area at the National Theatre which looks over the Thames and the bustling Southbank area. So if you’re a bit of an art buff, there’s something to be said for taking in a view as well as your daily dose of culture.
The main benefit held by the Tate, of course, is that it’s totally free to go up there and no one will blink at you whipping a camera out. At other locations, you might have to buy a cup of coffee first.
From a shopping hub
One New Change is a retail centre with a bit of a difference – it’s definitely aimed for those with deeper pockets, and the architecture reflects that. The glass lift will take you up to the terrace, where, past the bar and restaurant, you can find a public viewing area. This is right next to the iconic St Paul’s Cathedral, and offers views out across the city that allow for a myriad of framing opportunities.
There are other shopping centres up high, too: Westfield at Shepherd’s Bush boasts a high bridge from where you can see some distance, while the sister complex at Stratford is also built up in the air. Don’t forget to take a look around when you step off the overground rail services, either: some of them are positioned on tall bridges. Just be careful about your behaviour in these areas so that you don’t run afoul of British Transport Police.
From an iconic building
You’ll want to capture some of London’s most iconic sights in your skyline: St Paul’s, the Gherkin, the London Eye, the Shard, the Walkie Talkie… alright, so these buildings might have stupid names, but they do boast incredible views. The Sky Garden at the top of the Walkie Talkie is free to enter so long as you book, although you will have to fork out a pretty penny to enjoy the food and drink.
The floor-to-ceiling glass makes for a stunning view across the city, so long as you can avoid glare and your own reflection. Not every iconic building is built for photography – even when the viewing is good – so be wary of taking too long to set up your shots. The last thing you want is a member of staff tapping you on the shoulder and telling you to put your tripod away when you’ve just got it set up.
You can also try from the London Eye itself – though there are plenty of downsides to this idea, such as the prohibitive cost and the thick, potentially dirty glass. You’re also stuck in the air for perhaps a lot longer than it will take for you to get the shot you wanted.
From ground level
Much of London is a mixture of modern and ultra-modern built-up buildings, from the Shard to tower blocks like the infamous Grenfell, with older, shorter architectural designs. There’s something interesting in this contrast which can be captured at ground level – literally at ground level. Try bringing your camera as low as you can and shooting up, capturing that perspective beside a glass office block or a Victorian theatre.
Plenty of monuments often get this treatment – like Nelson’s Column – but there can be real hidden gems in this perspective that are not thought of very often. Play with scale and see where it takes you.
From a bridge
It might be a bit obvious, but we’ve all thought of it for a reason. The several iconic bridges which span the River Thames make for a great viewing spot, and can offer several different vistas.
To either side, you can look up and down the river, watching river cruises and speedboats dodge one another or admiring the docked ships turned into restaurants. You can also face straight ahead or back where you came from, capturing the buildings that line the river’s edge and clamour for attention.
Incidentally, a river cruise might just provide you with some great options as well. Just be careful about where you stand – the speed at which most of the lines travel can whip up some water into the air, and you don’t want that coming back and hitting your lens.
From a private view
There’s one angle which is bound to get you better results than any other, and this is from a private residence.
Let us explain: the tourist areas, which are free to get into, attract thousands if not millions of visitors each year. You have to think that at least half of these people are taking shots with cameras and phones, and that’s a generous estimate. These angles have all been covered, again and again.
Finding a private residence with a view, however, will get you something that far fewer people have access to. That little window on the world will be one that only hundreds have likely seen at a maximum. Make a friend, rent a little place for a night or two, or arrange a house swap with another photographer. You’ll get a view of your own – and a more unique angle.
The skyline itself is iconic, but it’s important to make sure that you compose and plan your images correctly for the best impact – hitting the right time of day for that stunning look.
Photo license links: Pixabay License